Photo used for illustrative purpose.
In an unprecedented move initiated by the Supreme Court (SC), the Philippines became the first country in the world to make it easier and less expensive for stateless individuals and asylum seekers to acquire Filipino citizenship.
This was made possible with the approval by the 15-member SC of an administrative measure called the Rule on Facilitated Naturalisation of Refugees and Stateless Persons whose beneficiaries include minors who have lost their parents and legal guardians.
“With the Philippines being the first country in Southeast Asia to accede to the 1954 and 1961 conventions, the rule is the only judiciary-led initiative of its kind at the global level that facilitates the naturalisation procedure for refugees and stateless persons,” the SC announced.
The tribunal also pointed out: “The approval of the rule is the judiciary’s contribution to the fulfillment of the Philippine pledge…to enhance the policy, legal and operational framework for refugees and stateless persons to ensure their full access to rights.”
These include, it said, the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness to which the Philippines was a signatory.
According to SC, its move followed about five months after President Duterte told the 76TH UN General Assembly that the Philippines would provide asylum for Afghan nationals who fled when Taliban militants seized Afghanistan in August 2021.
The rule, the High Court said, would make it easier and less expensive for stateless individuals to obtain Filipino citizenship. It stressed the rule rationalizes the legal processes that such individuals have earlier been required to accomplish in applying for a Philippine passport and to lighten the the financial burden required in acquiring a new nationality and legal identity.
In the past, the SC noted that traditionally, the courts would require judicial applications to be published in at least two newspapers of general circulation, which could be expensive for the refugees. But the rule, it said, now does away with such requirement and provide them with other options.
For instance, asylum seekers who want to become Filipino citizens may publish their petition for naturalization through the SCs website, the state-owned journal called Official Gazette or the website of a local newspaper, according to the tribunal.
In particular, the SC pointed out that the rule allows the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and its local offices or organisations taking care of child refugees to file a petition on their behalf as part of the country’s commitment to international agreements on children’s rights.
“This is in accordance with the Philippine obligation under international instruments,” the tribunal emphasised, “to ensure the right of a child to acquire a nationality, with the courts guided by the ‘best interest of the child’ principle.”
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